WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s $4 trillion budget would allow legal sales of marijuana in the District of Columbia by adding one word - “federal” - to spending language Congress approved last year.
The fiscal 2016 budget blueprint Obama unveiled on Monday bars only federal money from being spent by Washington city officials to legalize or reduce penalties for possession or sale of marijuana and other drugs.
The spending blueprint leaves the District of Columbia free to spend its own money on legalization. Under a $1.1 trillion budget deal in December, Congress had barred the city from spending any funds, including its own, to carry out pot sales.
District of Columbia voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure, Initiative 71, in November that would let the U.S. capital join the states of Washington and Colorado in legalizing pot for recreational use.
But the congressional budget deal left the status of the legalization measure unclear. Congress has the power to restrict spending in the District of Columbia.
District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has called on Congress to block Initiative 71 or let it stand. He said that by March the city would begin to treat the measure as law, which would in effect legalize possession without any means to buy pot legally.
Mendelson sent Initiative 71 to Congress in January for a 30-day review. Congress has used the review process only three times in 40 years to overturn a District of Columbia law.
The city has one of the lightest U.S. penalties for pot possession, although marijuana is illegal under federal law.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Phil Berlowitz